Rounding Out Your Inner Circle

The life of an entrepreneur or small business owner is often times a lonely island. You’re usually at work long before anyone else arrives and you stay long after others go home—and that’s if you’re fortunate enough to have a team working with you. Many times, entrepreneurs work alone. They are their Accountant, IT specialist, Chief Marketing Officer, CEO, and Head Groundskeeper all rolled into one.

So where do solo-entrepreneurs go when they need feedback to a business challenge or opportunity? Where do they turn to bounce their business ideas off the proverbial wall?

If you work for a large company or own your own, you’re typically surrounded by talented colleagues who make up your department or division or the entire organization. You think nothing of picking up the phone, shooting off an email, calling a meeting, or wandering down the hall to get insight from trusted confidantes, mentors, or advisors on topics big and small that impact your business and sometimes even your personal life. Finding a willing ear and someone with sage advice to share is no big deal.

BOM Life of Entrepreneur

But where can you turn when you’re the top dog of your own one-person team? Who can you rely on when you need that willing, well-tuned ear . . . and there’s simply nobody there?

Long-time readers of this blog know that I often stress the need to network, Network, NETWORK (shall I say it again?). Now, when we think of networking, we often think of it as a way to grow business opportunities and stay in touch and attuned to our respective industries—and you won’t hear me argue either of those points—but you can also use networking to grow a trusted inner circle of colleagues with whom you feel comfortable sharing information and seeking advice. Sure, you may run into issues of proprietary information and the occasional conflict of interest, but if you choose your inner circle wisely, and are willing to give advice as well as get it, you might be surprised at the generous nature of your fellow entrepreneurs. After all, many of them find themselves in the same boat as you.

Networking “Kids in the Hall” Style

You won’t want to include just anyone in your inner circle. Too much feedback can be just as difficult as too little, especially if the source hasn’t been vetted. Just as you would if you worked for the same organization under the same roof, include only those individuals you know you can trust, whose opinions you value, and who tend to share your professional and personal values. They are the ones most likely to provide the kind of counsel you seek.

Consider these ideas on how you might round out your “inner circle:”

  • If you’re new to an area, contact your local Chamber of Commerce for leads to local networking opportunities.
  • Check online for business associations, peer groups, or mentoring organizations in your area. Participating in one or more of these groups can be a boon to your business and to your relationship-building efforts.
  • Check with your nearest University. They often have alumni groups that sponsor networking events, or may have ties to business incubators or start-up groups.
  • Volunteer to become a mentor to other business owners. You’ll not only become a key resource to them, but you’ll begin to cultivate important relationships and contacts.
  • Scour the likes of or other online venues such as for networking events in your area, or online.
  • Join or start a networking group online through or even You might be pleasantly surprised at the number and quality of connections you generate.
  • Don’t forget your past confidantes. Remember those folks you turned to for advice in a past career? Chances are they’re still around. Seek them out. They will probably be more than happy to impart some advice, let alone rekindle your acquaintance.
  • Consider bouncing ideas off your spouse or significant other, or a close friend. He or she will often have a unique slant on your situation, plus will have the advantage of knowing you, your likes and dislikes, and your strengths and weaknesses, better than most.
  • Last, but not least, don’t forget those most responsible for your success: your clients. Identify a handful of your most trusted clients—your biggest fans—and turn to them for their advice. Invite them to lunch or for coffee, or call or email them. They may be flattered you consider their input valuable.

Here are some of the groups I belong to:

As a solo-entrepreneur or small business owner, you don’t have to and you shouldn’t try to conduct business in a vacuum. Business is about people, relationships, and meeting needs. Holed up in your own office and in your own head, trying to ask as well as to answer all the questions, can become a recipe for business failure.

How do you get the feedback you need or want? How have you developed your inner circle? Have you participated in networking groups or associations? What’s worked or hasn’t worked?

Share your experiences here.

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Heard Any Good (Brand) Stories Lately?

Success comes from being able to tell the story of your brand and engage audiences in ways that are creative, non-intrusive, and fun.

Below is how we tell our brand story at Barrel O’Monkeyz.

As our name suggests, we are energetic, nimble, and don’t believe business has to be stuffy to be effective. Our formula for success is simple:

More Creativity + More Ideas = More Fun . . . or positive results.

What might your brand story say?

Tell it well and you’ll connect with customers on a personal level that drives the business results you want.

Now that’s what we call fun! 

BOM Telling Your Story InfoGraphic

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New Tools, Same Fundamentals

Time and time again I am struck by how new technologies and new ways of communicating tend to make some of us think certain “old ways” of doing things are no longer useful, especially when it comes to marketing.

Sure, the rotary phone and telegraph have gone the way of homing pigeons and the pony express as we’ve moved on to tweets and texts and status updates. Heck, even email is feeling a bit long in the tooth these days. But the reality is each of the aforementioned are simply the tools we use to reach our target audiences.

Think of how we build houses these days. We may use newfangled materials, pneumatic nailers, and all sorts of space age adhesives, but the fundamental concept remains the same: you start from the bottom up, the foundation to the roof.

BOM House

And so it remains with marketing. What worked before in terms of identifying our target audiences, determining their pain points—the reasons they need our product or service—and describing how we can best meet their needs, remains as important today as it did 5, 10, or 50 years ago! It’s simply the delivery methods—the tools we use to engage our audiences—that have changed.

A few Decembers back, just before the holidays, I wrote a blog with some tips on segmenting target audiences in these days of social media. It was based on Tim Templeton’s work, Referral of a Lifetime. The season may have changed—it’s summer after all—but his sage advice remains spot on. So, enjoy this bit of holiday gifting . . . in July!

Social Media: Segment Your Way to Better Results

(Originally Posted on December 20, 2011)

WOW! 10,000 followers and counting on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn . . . 50,000 likes! It’s fantastic, right? But what does it all mean? How can you leverage your followers/social media community effectively? How do you get action, results?

I recently asked my social media community for help. It was interesting to see who viewed my request and who took action. Initially, I took the less than emphatic response by some a bit personally, especially with how much help I tend to give others. But then I got to thinking, “Maybe I am going about this all wrong. Maybe my message and my approach was wrong for the audience.”

While I could start by telling you to develop an overall strategy with clear goals and measurable objectives for your social media efforts, you probably already know that. Goals and objectives are important, but how do you translate them into functional strategies?

We may take the time to build our networks, some of us by one hand shake and one banana at a time, other’s by acquiring followers through less personal means, such as “like me,” “follow me,” “fan me,” and so on. But do we really ever get to know our followers—who they are, why they’re following us, what they hope to get out of the relationship? It’s important. Why? Because knowing who your followers are and why they follow you is critical to successful communication with them. It’s as simple as marketing “101”—know your audience and target messages to them appropriately to get the results you want.

Many social media sites allow you to customize lists for followers vs. friends to a degree, but even that can be misleading and not garner desired results. So here is my holiday gift to you: if you haven’t already, try to get your hands on a simple, yet fantastic, book called Referral of a Lifetime ( ).

In this book, author Tim Templeton recommends that you divide your network, not by school, work setting, church, social group, etc., but into four distinct segments using these three criteria:

  1. People who understand what you do
  2. People who understand how to help you
  3. People who want to help you

Group A = People who meet ALL of the above criteria
Group B = People who meet 2 of the 3 criteria
Group C = People who meet 1 of the 3 criteria
Group D = People who meet 0 of the 3 criteria

After segmenting your groups, simply get rid of all people in Group D (at least figuratively, in the social media sense!). When it comes to communication strategies, these people are wasting your time.

Now create your communication strategy. Focus most of your efforts on Group A because that’s where you’ll find the majority of your results. Next focus on Group B. While it will take some effort, you can educate members of Group B and convert them into “A”s over time.  As for Group C, they get holiday cards. The time and effort you spend with them may one day make them Group B members, but for now your time is better spent on Groups A and B.

Now, if you’re not comfortable segmenting your followers like this, you need to start thinking like an HR person sorting a stack of resumes. All you’re doing is dividing them into three piles: A, B and C, where Group C goes into the circular file (trash) and Group B seldom gets touched.

While it may sound simple (because it is!), there’s lots more good stuff in Templeton’s book designed to get you over the hump and focus your social media monkey chatter. You just might be amazed how directing your time and energies to where it matters most will not only improve results but also lift your spirits.

What gift can you give the Barrel O’ Monkeyz community? Share ways can you apply this approach to your communications strategy and tell us how you make out.

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Cold Calling Know How

Do you dread cold calling? Do you wonder if it’s just a waste of time?

Don’t toss cold calling out of your marketing tool kit just yet. Even in this day of digital and social media, some traditional techniques never get old. When done right—when done with purpose, authenticity, and targeted at the right audience for your offer—cold calling opens many doors that otherwise might stay closed.

So if you’re looking for creative ways to connect with your audience, cold calling may be just the idea you need to get the results you want . . . and at Barrel O’Monkeyz getting results is what we call fun!

BOM - Effective Cold Calling Infographic

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What Makes Your Brand Unique?

What does the story of your brand tell your audience about your products or services . . . about your company?

Is your brand nothing more than a logo, a tag line, and a business card, or does your brand connect emotionally with those you serve? (Hint: If it doesn’t, it should.)

BOM Unique Brand Story

Your brand represents everything you and your company are about, not just the “thing” you sell. It is the promise you make to your customers—it’s what you stand for, the need you fulfill in the lives of your customers, the value you bring to them.

For example, mega-lender Fannie Mae is not just in the business of mortgage lending; rather Fannie Mae is in the business of making dreams come true. Their brand is not the particular thing they offer—in their case, mortgages—but rather the benefit they provide to customers: dream realization.

Similarly, Apple does not just sell computers or smartphones or tablets (arguably, from a technology standpoint, their products are not marketplace best); rather, they sell a technological mindset or lifestyle. Plain and simple, it’s “cool” to own an Apple product, to be part of the club. Flashing your Samsung just ain’t that sexy!

Let’s consider a professional service provider—business consulting, for example. How can you possibly hope to stand out from the thousands of other business consultants out there offering similar services to the same target audience? What makes you different? What about your brand would make anyone take notice of what you have to offer versus someone else?

Your brand story is what makes you unique, and it’s your ability to communicate that story—the unique qualities of your brand that bring value to your customers—that makes audiences connect emotionally to you (and not somebody else), that makes them say, this is the person I want to work with. It’s not where you went to school or what books you wrote or what awards you’ve won. Sure, those are nice credibility boosters, they are nice footnotes to your brand story, but If you don’t first connect emotionally and attract the attention and the emotions of your target customers, all the accolades in the world don’t matter. Like it or not, expertise, know-how, and customer service are typically “givens” these days. Where you can stand out is in areas such as reliability, responsiveness, availability, and the ability to deliver results.

Check out this great example of story tellers:

Here are some tried-and-true maxims about brands, courtesy of branding guru David Gumner, President, ActiveBrands (

  • Great brands are personal. They become an integral part of people’s lives by forging emotional connections.
  • Your brand tells the story of what business you are in. It connects to the need your brand fulfills in the lives of your clients.
  • Successful brand-building and consistency go hand-in-hand. If the brand message is always changing, consumers begin to question whether they can trust the brand.
  • What a company stands for is more important than what it sells. Value-based branding goes beyond the facts to the heart. Consumers must believe in your value proposition, which doesn’t ever change.

Have you ever tried to articulate the story of your brand? How would you describe the role you play in the lives of your customers? Who is the hero of the story? Who are the antagonist (your rivals, competitors)? What potential plot twists (challenges) might you encounter along the way to success? What does your happy ending look like? What will make the story of your brand resonate most with your audience?

Share your brand experiences here. Interested monkeyz want to know.

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How Are Your Soft Skills?

More news watching this week got me to thinking about “soft skills.” You know what I mean—those “people” skills such as an ability to listen, to communicate, and be friendly, among other things. It seems no matter where I look, whether locally, nationally, or even the world stage, these soft skills are in short supply with our leaders. I find this ironic, really, since training and coaching, which typically deal with improving people skills, are more available than ever.

Of course, really improving one’s soft skills has to start with a sincere desire to do so and a willingness to face certain “truths” about who you are, how others perceive you, and your strengths and shortcomings.

About a year-and-a-half ago, I wrote a blog about the kind of management style needed by today’s business leaders. It’s sound advice that anyone in any kind of leadership position can benefit from. Enjoy!

Managing in the Round

(Originally posted on February 6, 2013)

The workplace is ever evolving. From the integration of computers, smart phones, and tablets in the office, to high-speed connectivity, virtual meetings, telecommuting, and more, it’s a brave new world of work out there.

As technology advances and worker education and training levels climb, though, I wonder if management and people “soft” skills are keeping pace with every hardware, software, and firmware update?

Used to be, managers had a very top-down mentality. They got their marching orders from on high (a VP, the CEO, or the Board), and they in turn gave marching orders to their direct reports. It made for a very dictatorial style, which was not necessarily conducive to innovation, effective communication, or overall competitiveness. People knew their roles, did what they were told, and never groused—at least not publicly. It was just how things had always been done.

While to some that might sound like the good old days—the way things ought to be—a word of caution. Long-term top-down management leads to workplace dissatisfaction, career stagnation, lower productivity, and employee burnout. No one likes to come to work and be dictated to with no hope of advancement and no hope of recognition or appreciation for a job well done. That’s not how American workers got to be the most productive in the world.

Study after study shows that productivity and employee satisfaction, regardless of employment level (whether you are a worker-bee, supervisor, or CEO) go hand-in-hand. While people like to be paid for the work they do, what they crave most is recognition from peers and their bosses and the opportunity to make of their jobs what they want to make of them.

The World of Work - According to BOM

The world of work has gotten incredibly competitive in the last two decades or so, especially on a global scale. Competition is no longer limited to your own backyard, not with the Internet, overnight delivery, and the advent of digital products (and let’s not even get into how 3D printers, which convert digital information into physical objects, are poised to impact manufacturing in a big way). To foster the kind of workplace environment necessary to compete successfully these days, managers must take an all-encompassing view of their companies—everything from relationships with their direct reports, their peers, and their bosses, to the vendors and suppliers their companies rely on and, of course, their customers.

I call this “Managing in the Round” and it takes a manager with awesome people and communication skills to be able to manage up, manage down, manage sideways, manage internally (to the company), manage externally (to the outside world), and, perhaps most importantly, manage “self.”

Where are your people skills at? Are you as effective as you want to be, as you could be? How do others—your boss, your peers, your direct reports—view you and your competencies?

More and more companies, from the small to the large, are using what are called “360-Degree Assessments” to give their managers a better sense of how they are perceived by those around them. By getting a more complete worldview of how others perceive them, in turn these managers can be more effective managing up, down, and all around.

The 360 process is not designed to be punitive. Typically, feedback is collected anonymously (to encourage candid observations) and results are shared only with the manager being assessed to help guide his or her personal and professional development (though, for example, managers may choose to share their results as necessary to reinforce a desire for training).

Feedback from 360s is used to point out areas of deficiency and competence (at least as perceived by those around the person being assessed), such as the person’s . . .

  • ability to communicate
  • ability to listen
  • leadership style
  • friendliness
  • willingness to be a team player
  • attitude
  • reliability
  • perceived knowledge

Now, some of you may be afraid to hear the uncensored truth, while others will likely welcome such feedback, eager to identify strengths and weaknesses and take corrective action as/if needed. This is normal.

Accepting the possibility that not everyone is a raving fan can be daunting. But what’s critical with 360s is that the person being assessed maintain an open mind, realizing that no one is ever as “good” or as “bad” as their feedback might suggest, and that there will always be that one person (or two) who says something overly positive or negative. The most important thing is to look for overall themes from the feedback—are you an effective leader, do you listen well, are you viewed as a team player?—and be willing to take direction from what the results tell you.

How might you go about doing a 360?

Like most things, you can make 360s as simple or as complex as you want. There are numerous coaches and consultants out there who offer 360s as part of their tool kits, and there are some do-it-yourself options as well, through services like Constant Contact ( and Survey Monkey ( where you can put together a simple survey of your own, usually asking respondents to rate the manager in areas of leadership, management, and organizational competence on a scale of 1 to 5 (or 1 to 10), with options for verbatim comments.

Just keep in mind, shorter surveys usually result in better response rates…so take care not to ask too much!

Once you’ve gone through your own 360 process, consider doing the same for key members of your team (or your whole team) as a way for them to learn more about themselves and how their behaviors, attitudes, and skillsets affect others.

Do you already use 360s at your company? If so, what has your experience been? If not, why not?

Share your thoughts here.

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Relationships: Can’t We All Just Get Along?

Long time readers of this blog as well as newbies have probably figured out by now that relationships are important to me, whether we’re talking about business relationships, personal relationships, or something in-between. Relationships are intrinsic to human nature. Even if you choose NOT to have a relationship with someone—you still have a relationship with that person, albeit one that’s less than ideal. There’s just no getting around it.

Looking at the news these days, from recurring troubles in the Middle East and the human drama unfolding on our southern borders, to budget battles in cities and towns big and small, to the ongoing plight of the chronically unemployed and its effects on families, I like to imagine what a little “Relationship 101” might do for each of these situations. Naïve, you say? Perhaps. But it’s hard to argue that the world would not be a better place if people on all sides of every issue could show a little compassion for one another . . . and it all starts with mutual respect, the cornerstone of any lasting and productive relationship. Add in a little empathy, and we just might have a winning formula!

Without further ado, here’s my previous blog on the power of relationships. Enjoy!

Leveraging the True Power of Relationships

(Originally posted on May 23, 2012)

In an ideal world, success would be determined by what you know and how hard you were willing to apply that knowledge to solving problems, innovating, and making a difference in the lives of others. Of course, we live in a world of people, so life doesn’t always unfold in ideal ways. With people come emotions, motivations, preferences, likes, dislikes, interactions, communications challenges, and practically any other “wildcard” you can imagine. Success is often less about what you know and more about who you know; it’s about RELATIONSHIPS.

(Part of any relationship is having fun  . . . and  I can’t think of a better way to make you smile than a simple “make you laugh” video. ENJOY!)

As I work with individuals ranging from senior executives to young upstart entrepreneurs, we often discuss the importance of building and nurturing long-lasting, mutually-respectful relationships. Why? Aside from the obvious “Why not,” it’s really quite simple:  humans have an innate need to be connected to others. We are at our “best” when we are in healthy, supportive relationships in the workplace and at home.

Relationships serve us in all sorts of way. They . . .

  • Offer a safety net against life’s sudden twists and turns. When we are in relationships with others, from a spouse, partner, significant other, or just close friends, we are never truly alone . . . and this is more powerful than perhaps most of us realize. We tend to be more confident and self-assured in everything we do when we know that others “have our back.”
  • Allow to us share knowledge and experience with others, and to get the same in return. We all have lessons learned to share with others, and we can all benefit from knowing about the triumphs and challenges of others. It’s how we grow and learn.
  • Present us with leads and opportunities we otherwise could not have discovered. We can’t possibly keep track of everything that’s moving and shaking in our own little corners of the world, from job openings, investment opportunities, or even social activities. Relationships with others help us cast a wider net, opening us up to newfound possibilities.
  • Allow us to help others, to show compassion, to do good deeds, to lend a hand. We get energy from doing good; and there doesn’t have to be some form of Karmic payback to make it worthwhile (though it sure is nice when one good deed leads to another).
  • Allow us to share the workload, to create high-performing teams—and if you’ve ever been on a team, whether in business or in sports, you know what I mean. There is strength in numbers, and it’s not just additive but exponential. What one person can’t possibly hope to get done, several people can often take on and achieve tenfold. Think about it, the LA Dodgers wouldn’t be too successful if they fielded only one player now, would they?

Of course, I don’t mean you have to be on first-name basis with all of your contacts, sharing baby pictures, and overnighting on weekend getaways. Certainly not. Relationships come in all shapes and sizes—some are intimate, such as with a spouse, partner, or dear friends; others are distant, such as with acquaintances and long-lost relatives; and others land somewhere in-between, such as with work colleagues and networking buddies. And it’s not always a matter of numbers. Sure, the more relationships you have, the better-connected you might feel, but the quality of those relationships plus the effort you put into maintaining them matters just as much as quantity.

Learn More About Barrel O' Monkeyz - Your home for outsourced marketing needs

More Creativity, More Ideas, More FUN!

Far too frequently, I’ll encounter managers and executives who I tried to introduce to new people over the years while impressing on them the importance of relationship-building, and they are now laid off, trying to build a network from scratch. Of course, the right thing to do is help them—which I do—but still I shake my head: cultivating relationships is a lifelong pursuit, not something to do only once life deals you a blow.

Quite literally, these days there’s no excuse for failing to build and maintain relationships. With social media, it’s easy to maintain connections with people the world over. Update your Facebook status and connect with hundreds if not thousands of friends and associates instantly. In 140 characters or less, you can tweet your latest insight or lead to all 500 of your Twitter followers. And don’t forget the power, reach, and simplicity of email, enewsletters, blogs, and even text messaging—not to mention networking groups, meetings, conferences (in my book, nothing beats face-to-face interactions, sharing business cards, and maybe even a cocktail).

Take the time to build your network and manage it. You never know when your relationships will open a door to opportunity, or when you can open that same door for somebody else.

How have relationships helped your professional pursuits? When have they revealed to you opportunities you otherwise would have missed?

Share here . . . inquiring monkeys want to know!

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Are you likeable?

Most of us prefer to think that business is all about dollars and cents, profits and loss, but it isn’t. Business is about relationships, and more specifically about nurturing those relationships so that there’s something “in it” for all parties. Profit and loss are just byproducts of that relationship  . . . and likeability is a key factor.

Business Relationships

Now, before everyone jumps on me with examples of this hated person and that villainous business type who has done well for him or herself (hello, Leona  Helmsley, anyone?), I will concede that some business success stories transcend likeability by the sheer quality of the innovation or the idea. For example, Steve Jobs was purportedly very demanding and tough to work for, but does that make him unlikeable? He might not have been popular with some employees, but he was adored by customers and technology fans the world over. To some extent, then, likeability is relative.

But for your typical businessman or woman, let’s give my premise a “scratch and sniff test.” Who would you rather work for, a boss you liked or one you didn’t? As an employee, or even as a friend, who are you more likely to go above and beyond for? Similarly, as an employer, who do you want on your team—someone who’s likeable, or some sourpuss? Who do you think will be a better team player, more productive, and more likely to play “nice” with customers?

As an individual, likeability can be critical to your career and to your relationships with colleagues. I’m not talking about becoming a pushover and a “yes” man or woman. That’s not being likeable. In business, people tend to “like” people who are genuine and authentic in their dealings, who are sincere. They like people who listen to them and show an interest in their work and what they are thinking. They like people in whom they can confide and share sensitive information, knowing that it won’t be shared or become fodder for the rumor mill. In short, they want to be able to trust you and be comfortable around you. They will like you because they can depend on you.

As a business owner, likeability can go a long way to helping you maximize productivity and attract and retain top talent. Who do you think employees will work hardest for—a tyrant, or someone who’s fair and respects them? A tyrant might get away with belligerence for a while, but in the long run it’s a recipe for disaster. Mark my words, any good employees who work for tyrants will book it the moment something better comes along. Similarly, if you have a reputation as a quality, compassionate employer, you are more likely to attract top-notch employees seeking to be treated fairly and with respect.
As a customer, what is more likely to build brand loyalty—likeable employees or a bunch of grumps? Consider your local DMV. If it’s like most, you’ve most likely had a bad experience with employees who don’t seem to want to be there and don’t seem inclined to help you (or anyone else). It all tends to be pretty unpleasant. While they might be the nicest people outside the workplace (we can dream, now, can’t we?) my experience has been that DMV workers usually don’t come across as very likeable. Perhaps it’s not in their job descriptions; perhaps their bosses aren’t likeable either and the sentiment trickles down. Whatever the reason, as a customer, chances are if you could get your DMV services somewhere else—where the staff is more likeable and the experience more pleasant—you probably would. Now apply this thinking to private business where customers DO have a choice and you get the picture. It pays to be nice!

What is your personal or business likeability factor?

  • Do you smile often? In-person, on the phone, or even when composing an email, smiles carry positive energy. Use them well . . . and often.
  • Do you recognize the efforts of others? Big or small, everyone contributes in some way. Acknowledge it and reward it. Be sincere.
  • Do you pay it forward? Be generous with your time and resources. A good community reputation does wonders for your likeability.
  • Do you look people in the eye? It’s the most direct way to engage and show interest.
  • Do you participate in work and social events? It’s a great way to connect and stay connected with others, and to boost your likeability. Network. Play on the company softball team. Flip burgers at the employee picnic. You get the idea.

Share your thoughts on how likeability affects your relationships, personally and professionally.

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It Pays To Get Noticed

It seems like there are lots of folks out there who will pretty much do anything to get noticed. I’m thinking of the Paris Hiltons and the Kardashians of the world (though Paris has been “quiet” as of late), plus all those pseudo-celebrities filling out the casts of the dozens of reality shows dominating our TV screens. And each year, each month, the ante goes up on what it takes to get noticed—the more risqué, the louder, the ruder the better (or so it seems). Even the music scene is littered with attention grabbers. Tell me this, what’s done more to promote Justin Bieber’s fame, his music or his behavior?

What lesson can business owners and entrepreneurs take from this shameless self-promotion? It’s simple really: it pays to be noticed, and on an increasingly crowded playing field, getting noticed becomes more difficult and more important than ever.

Selling a widget? Chances are there are dozens, if not hundreds, of others selling widgets, too. What makes you/your widget better? What makes you/your widget the one to buy? Product quality is important, but somewhat of a given. It’s getting noticed—sticking out in the crowded marketplace—that’s most likely going to get a buyer’s attention.

I’m not suggesting trashing a fancy hotel room, toting a miniature dog in a hand purse everywhere you go, spouting outlandish remarks to anyone who will listen, getting arrested for DWI and smiling sheepishly in your mug shot. Leave that to the celebrity wannabes and their brittle psyches. Instead, look at your own business, your products and services, your marketplace. How can you stand out from the crowd?

Enjoy this blog of mine from—gulp!—almost three years ago. Time sure flies, and 15 minutes of fame can be fleeting, but the notion that differentiation is critical to marketing success never gets old.

Think Outside the Box

(Originally posted on June 29, 2011)

Success used to hinge on your ability to demonstrate value to your prospects and customers. You had a product or service to deliver, a sales message, you advertised in local or regional media, and voila—if people liked what they saw or read, or heard positive things from a friend or family member, you had customers.

For most, one size seemed to fit all. Options were limited. Most consumers had no idea what other products or services might be available . . . or even possible. They didn’t know what they were missing.

In many ways, the selling process hasn’t changed much these days—but the scope sure has. Consider now how far and wide your message can go. In seconds, your sales message can be viewed by video halfway around the world. It can be read in a blog post three countries over. Your product or service can be purchased online by someone on a cruise ship in the middle of the Caribbean (of course I can think of something I’d rather be doing on vacation in the Caribbean, but I digress). It’s truly staggering if you think about it.

The Internet, the Web, email, the cloud, social media, even satellite TV, have brought us all much closer together, leveling the playing field so that even very small businesses can compete for customers with the “big guys” on a global scale (unimaginable just 15 years ago).

But with this expanded reach, the jungle has really gotten crowded. Just as you can reach millions (if not potentially billions), so too can your competitors. There’s lots of monkey chatter—so much so it’s often in one ear of consumers and out the other unless it really, REALLY captures their attention.

BOM Expanded Reach

Today’s marketers might have the problem of global reach solved, but the same old problem of getting noticed is still there—and it’s more challenging than ever. Nowadays, there are so many fish in this very big pond we’ve created that businesses have to think and act outside the box (starting from scratch with product/service development) to get the word out, get the business, and keep the business.

It’s safe to say that most consumers are looking for something different these days. Ho-hum. Just how many cell phones or laptops or flat-screen TVs or soda or beer commercials do we need to see before our eyes begin to glaze over and our minds tune out? Heck, even the Superbowl ads of late have lost some of their luster.

What’s worked in the past won’t always work going forward. While you can build a better mousetrap, that’s only half the battle. You’ve got to elevate your “mouse trap” above the chatter, make it stand out, make it different, desirable.

Did Apple invent the personal computer? For that matter did Microsoft? No on both counts. But both of those companies (Apple more so these days) demonstrated an uncanny ability and flexibility to adjust to what their clients wanted most.

Of course, this doesn’t mean we throw the baby out with the bathwater. That’d be just wrong, literally and figuratively. What is does mean is that when it comes to all aspects of our businesses, from dreaming up the products or services we think our customers want, to devising ways to promote them and talk about them, to delivering them in ways that can be tailored to specific client needs, we need to be flexible and agile enough to adapt to what the market (aka the customer) tells us.

Like it or not, the customer is King or Queen.

  • Look at your competitors. What are they doing? How are they enjoying success where, perhaps, you aren’t? Look at how they use the Web, social media, etc.
  • Speak with your customers. Really LISTEN to them. What are they telling you THEY need? How can you accommodate them? How can you adjust?
  • Hone in on what your target audience needs and wants most from you. What can you do to provide custom solutions for them, something they can’t just buy off the shelf? Again, listen to them . . . then lather, rinse, repeat.

Business as usual is no longer “good enough.” The race usually goes to the fleetest of foot. Likewise, the sale tends to go to those most able to “bob and weave” with the changing marketplace and shifting consumer demands.

What are you doing in your business to deliver outside-the-box solutions to your customers?

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Time to Take The Opportunity Blinders Off

Perusing the Web the other day, I found this quote:

“…Opportunities! Every life is full of them. Every newspaper article is an opportunity. Every client is an opportunity. Every sermon is an opportunity. Every business transaction.”

Now that’s music to my ears!

The quote comes from Orison Swett Marden. Maybe you’ve heard of him. Born in New Hampshire, he lived from the mid-1800s to the 1920s and is considered by many to be the “grandfather” of inspirational, self-help literature, composing dozens of books and pamphlets in his lifetime.

Opportunities - Every life is full of them

How does opportunity show up in your life? Do you create opportunity, or do you wait for it to come your way? Are you able to recognize opportunity when it’s right in front of you?

When we’re young, it seems as though everything is an opportunity. Everything is new, untested, unknown, just a lot of low hanging bananas ripe for the picking. We have few personal and professional ties. With seemingly nothing to lose, and everything to gain, it’s easy for us to drop everything and pull up stakes to take advantage of whatever comes our way: going to college far from home, taking that always-talked-about cross country road trip, diving into your first real job with gusto, or just going out for drinks with friends after work (who knows who you might meet?).

As we get older, though, it’s as though we start to put blinders on, slowly blinding us to opportunities. Maybe it’s because we start being more cautious. After all, the more we have, the more there is to lose, right? Spontaneity gives way to deliberateness. The opportunities have to be more obvious than ever for us even to recognize them, and then they need to be nearly a sure bet before we even consider acting on them.

As for those opportunities that don’t seem to fit into the neat little plan each of us has for how we want our lives to unfold, we just shrug our shoulders and carry on, ignoring them. We keep our heads down and our noses to the grindstone.

I wonder how many opportunities each of us has missed along the way. I wonder how many I have missed along the way—and I like to think I keep my eyes pretty wide open all the time!

Here are some red flags that you might have opportunity blinders on:

  • Do you often wonder, “Why does that guy (or gal) have all the luck? What about me?” Chances are, that other guy or gal is more open to possibility and not afraid to “go for it” on occasion. That’s how some guy in his garage comes up with a better mousetrap, or the nerdy guy you went to high school with ends up being the heartthrob on your favorite TV show. They looked for opportunity, recognized it, and went for it. They did not sit back and wait.
  • Does your job feel like it’s at a dead end, as though you’ve hit the ceiling and there’s nowhere for you to go? Maybe the Universe is trying to tell you a change of scenery is in order. Maybe it’s time to take a class, learn a new skill, ask your boss about professional development opportunities, or simply find a new job.
  • Does your social life feel stagnant? Friends and familiarity are nice, but do you frequent the same places all the time and do the same things? You probably even order the same 1 or 2 things off the menu, too. Spice it up. New social settings can open up a whole world of new opportunities, from making new friends to enjoying new favorite foods
    and activities.
  • Do you often wonder, “What if?” If so, that means you’ve probably recognized plenty of opportunities over the years, but for whatever reason failed to act on them. Maybe it was fear of the unknown or fear of failure (or even success), or maybe you simply lacked the ambition or drive to try something new. Go out on a limb every now and then. I’m not suggested doing anything reckless, but the old saying “Nothing ventured, nothing gained,” still carries a lot of weight with me.

Look back over the past 5, 10, 15, or more years. Think about those obvious opportunities, such as meeting your spouse or significant other, your job, building or buying your home, having kids, etc. You get the picture. Where would you be now if you had not taken those chances when they presented themselves?

BOM Dig DeeperNow dig deeper.

What other opportunities aren’t quite so obvious, but there nonetheless—a colleague at work who wants to be friends, following up on a business lead, joining a networking group, attending a church social, taking that cooking class you always wanted to take, getting up the nerve to ask the girl (or guy) of your dreams out?

Don’t let life pass you by so that one day you wake up and wonder where it all went and what it all meant. It’s time to take the opportunity blinders off. The possibilities—just like the opportunities—are endless.

“At the end of the day, let there be no excuses, no explanations, no regrets.” (Steve Maraboli, Life, the Truth, and Being Free)

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